|The Greek government has ordered a ban on all electronic arcade games, prompted by a scandal involving senior government ministers being caught frequenting unlicensed gambling dens. Then, a week later, photographs of a senior minister, George Paschalides, in the company of a reputed gambling baron, were splashed across the front pages of national newspapers. |
With local elections being held in October this year, the scandal is embarrassing for the ruling Socialist Party, so a crackdown on the cause of that embarrassment would be politically expedient.
Recently, a group of financial, legal and crime experts under the auspices of the Interior Ministry have been drafting a bill to stem illegal gambling in Greece. The country has the highest incidence of gambling in the European Union, according to a Finance Ministry spokesman. The government is also considering setting up a task force to lead the crackdown, according to official sources.
However, as with any government legislation against gambling, drafting the law could be problematic: The problem,' said Dimitris Batzelis, secretary general of Greece's Financial Crime Bureau, 'isn't enforcing the gaming ban. It's clarifying what the ban will in fact ban.'
Under Greek law, gambling is prohibited outside licensed casinos. In the last two months, over 750 arcade owners have been arrested, fined and handed three-month prison sentences for converting slot machines to pay cash prizes rather than free games. 200,000 unlicensed gambling machines operate nationwide, costing Greece an estimated $5 million daily in lost revenue, according to government officials.
The decision to scrap all electronic games – even non-gambling games such as Pac-Man – has some legal experts to doubt its constitutionality.
Even state officials like Mr. Batzelis of the crime bureau warned that a blanket ban was 'no panacea' for the country's gambling epidemic.
'The ban will not wipe out illegal gambling in its entirety,' he said 'It's just a cosmetic fix.'
Over 90% of Greeks questioned in a recent poll published in the daily Eleftherotypia said the ban was doomed.
'Not only is it ridiculous,' said Pavlos Dimitriou, 51, a salesman playing a game of Tetris at an arcade in central Athens, 'it's an audacious move coming from a crowd of crooked politicians.'